Florida Bills on School Bus Advertising Wait to See if They Make Legislative Calendar

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In January, a bill hit the House floor that would allow county school districts to create policies for exterior advertisements on school buses. That same month, a separate House bill was introduced that would allow a state economic development board to sell naming rights for public school facilities, which includes advertising on school buses.

Both bills would allow the district’s school board to have the first right of refusal on any ads pertaining to subject matter, placement and contract for services. But otherwise the legislation differs greatly.

The most visible difference is that HB 109 introduced by Republican Rep. Bryan Nelson on Jan. 10 says 50 percent of the revenue would go to the transportation department, and the district would be able to use the rest of the money at its discretion. Meanwhile, HB 315 introduced on Jan. 20 by Democratic Rep. Irving Slosberg, includes bus advertising in a state-regulated program that allows schools to sell naming rights. Slosberg’s bill states that 95 percent of revenue goes to the district. But the bill stops short of saying that the district must use the money to offset transportation costs, stating only that the revenue should be earmarked for “district revenue enhancement.”

It remains to be seen if either bill makes it to agenda. The session starts in March, and Rep. Nelson said decisions were being made by committee chairs as to which legislation would proceed. In the same boat is SB 1124, a companion bill to HB 109, and SB 558, a companion to HB 315.

The Florida Association for Pupil Transportation published a position paper last month in response to the first House bill and to a new law passed in New Jersey that allows districts to set up school bus advertising programs. FAPT opposes any advertising on buses, especially on the exterior as the paper said any revenue could come at the expense of the safety of students inside or around the bus, plus to other motorists, as the ads can cause a distraction. FAPT also pointed out that there have yet been any definitive studies that show that advertising on a school bus or elsewhere can lead to increased risks of crashes.

Rep. Nelson said the advertisements would not be allowed on the rear of school buses and that he had yet to hear from FAPT, adding that most groups don’t waste political capital until a bill makes the agenda.

“If somebody’s going to T-bone [crash] you, I’m not sure there’s anything you can do,” he said. “A T-bone is different than running into the front or the back as there could be some distraction there. There are no ads on the front or the back of the bus. We’ve done what we think is prudent.”

He added that his bill does not currently address the dimensions of possible school bus ads but that he would likely look into adding that language if HB 109 moves forward.